MLS will open its 2021 season on April 3, its latest start since 2007

MLS has pushed back the start of the 2021 season until April 3 -- the league's latest start since the 2007 season -- and it will hold MLS Cup on Dec. 11.

Until recently, MLS insisted that it was still targeting a start date of early to mid-March.

The eight-month season -- regular season and playoffs -- is consistent with the length of the 2019 and scheduled 2020 season before the pandemic hit. In 2018, MLS started on March 3 and finished on Dec. 8 for a nine-month season.

Clubs will be allowed to open training camps on Feb. 22. (Teams are allowed to open training no more than six weeks before the start of the season.)

Two issues are hanging over MLS's head as it prepares for its 26th season: the pandemic and its latest round of negotiations with the MLSPA following its invocation of the force majeure clause in their revised collective bargaining agreement.

The move to push back the start of the regular season will allow teams more time for the pandemic picture to hopefully improve and local authorities to permit fans back in the stands or at higher capacity levels. As a practical matter, it will also allow teams more time to safely open training camps. (MLB's opening of the Cactus League -- Arizona spring training -- in February will likely be delayed because of Arizona's high case rate for COVID-19.)

MLS and the MLSPA have not reached an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement. On Friday, the MLSPA and MLS met to discuss the MLSPA's response to MLS's proposal for a new agreement. League and players met again on Monday to discuss the league’s counterproposal. The league has proposed to keep pay levels for 2021 and 2022 at 2020 levels and extend the length of the agreement by two years, through 2027.

The 30-day window following MLL's invocation of the force majeure clause ends on Thursday night. If no agreement is reached by then, the terms of the agreement reached in June 2020 remain in place, but it does set up the possibility for an unprecedented labor stoppage.

In 2020, training camps opened while negotiations continued on a new CBA and the old agreement remained in place though those relations between the league and players were a lot better then than now following the contentious negotiations that led to a new agreement reached in June 2020 in order for the 2020 season to continue.

The decision to push back the start of the 2021 regular season until April does address one issue raised by the players in recent months -- the need for more time to "heal" after the trauma of the 2020 season impacted by the pandemic.

In December, Bob Foose, the executive director of the MLS Players Association, said almost 20 percent of MLS players were infected with COVID-19 in 2020. MLS's three Canadian teams were based in the United States through the latter months of the MLS season due to Canadian travel restrictions.

MLS had stressed the need for a March start because of the congested 2021 international calendar -- start of World Cup 2022 qualifying in Concacaf, Gold Cup, Concacaf Nations League -- and its desire to resume to the U.S. Open Cup and two cup competitions it launched with Liga MX, the Leagues Cup and Campeones Cup. They all remain in MLS's 2021 plans.

The April 3 start to the 2021 MLS season will come three days before the start of the 2021 Concacaf Champions League in which four or five MLS teams will compete.

The 2021 openers will also come four days after the final of the Concacaf Olympic qualifying tournament for men's soccer. The postponement of the start of the opening camps around MLS creates a problem for the U.S. U-23s, whose MLS players will now face a minimum of three weeks without club training in February.

MLS players will form the nucleus of the U.S. U-23 roster in March for the Olympic qualifying, which is slated to begin March 18 in Guadalajara. Sixteen U-23s are with the senior national team in Orlando for Sunday's friendly game against Trinidad & Tobago.
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